JJ DOOM – Key to the Kuffs

JJ DOOM – Key To The Kuffs
Lex: 2012

For the years of 1999 – 2005, we needed Daniel Dumile and the super villain cast of characters he used to rap over beats. Emerging from the dungeon of label hell and the death of his brother Subroc, DOOM appeared on the landscape of Clintonian American stasis with rap as its soundtrack. Bad Boy, No Limit, and Cash Money were getting that major paper, while Rawkus and Stones Throw had become sites of refuge for us with more traditional and non-commercial taste. From his corner of New York (actually Atlanta), on one of hip hop’s most stridently independent labels, Fondle ‘Em, a rapper in his late 20s, wearing a make-shift Halloween mask, concocted the first of many albums deep in imagination, that flexed all skill and no bullshit.

Operation: Doomsday sounds like it was recorded on a karaoke mic, straight to cassette, next to a stack of comics, and a bottle of yak. Mr. Dumile through his character DOOM created one of the most insular and captivating rap albums of recent memory concerning grief, alcoholism, and how grimey NY still was. From there as rap and R&B merged in a two-head hydra of material opulence, one-dimensional thuggery, and bird-brain club anthems, Dumile (now with a refined mask made of steel) gave us the world’s of Viktor Vaughn, the three head space monster King Geedorah, linked up with Madlib and Danger Mouse, and produced some of the most critically acclaimed and memorable music from the first half of the past decade. You wanted lyricism, we had DOOM; you wanted fly loops and chops, we had DOOM; you wanted well executed concepts, we had DOOM. Without a doubt it was one of the most inspired and GOAT-worthy runs in rap’s recorded history.

It only made sense that in such barren times for quality rap, we needed a super villain to be our rap super hero. But rap (and America) is much different now, and Dumile’s complex cast of characters has been relatively quiet since. Three years have past since Born Like This dropped, and Key to the Kuffs arrives in a landscape where the underground is the internet, the labels have pulled the money from pop-rap, and the arbitrary line between street and conscious has all but been erased. So this semi-super group of Jneiro Jarrel and DOOM link up for 15 tracks of neo-noir space-age rap science.

“Boring Convo” is the villain in top form rapping about getting kicked out of America and blending into the streets of London over Jneiro’s muffled horn loop and factory line drum sounds. Earlier “Bite the Thong” slaps through speakers with its booming low-end and swirling sounds of bleeps and blaps as DOOM speaks on why his legend will remain after he’s done with rapping. Simply the song title is a metaphor for being nasty on the mic. Later, “GMO” finds DOOM in high-concept form painting pictures of a world full of sickness and disease, which by its end bleeds into a quick Jneiro solo rap over a crunchy melodious guitar chop. The album ends with Jneiro doing a fantastic parody of swag-rap’s sound for DOOM to completely flip the idea of fucking with a fine hoe with the wit and comedy of a wise uncle at the family bar-b-que.

But we end where we began. As the sloganeering of “Hip Hop being dead” went from quite whisper at the beginning of the aughts, to the Nas fronted gossip wire of 2006, for some of us it did seem to be near flat-lining. DOOM was there like a selfless doctor in a war zone healing the wounded. But now, with a wealth of high-quality rap songs and rappers (yes, lyrical miracle rappity-rap ass rappers), DOOM the villain, seems to no longer be needed. Simply put, DOOM now exists in a rap universe where he isn’t one of the few making great records. Yet, we welcome his presence, because with Key to the Kuffs, DOOM and Jneiro have crafted a quality rap album by skilled elders, who don’t need their songs to exist within the blog hype or whatever remains of “urban radio”. This is ear candy for us old heads who don’t have near as many problems with the youth running the streets now.

3.5 out of 5

36 thoughts on “JJ DOOM – Key to the Kuffs

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  1. As the great Daniel Dumile once told me, “Calm down, it ain’t so critical.” DOOM rushed this album – his admission – bc of pressure from the label. And it shows. I think 3.5 out of 5 is fair, and I think Frank’s assessment of the DOOM mythology is on point. DOOM exists in a different world, and Keys to the Kuffs is his realization of that. Don’t be surprised if a new DOOM character emerges soon.

  2. As a great artist puts more and more work out the less they are compared to what is out during each new release of their work. I really don’t see a reason to give Key to the Kuffs a 3.5/5 based on the actual album. Only in comparison to DOOM’s past work or an argument about “relevancy” does that make sense. That’s all pretty much temporary stuff. When DOOM retires or passes that type of analysis won’t make sense because all we’ll be left with is the work.

  3. Eh, I guess it’s a 3.5 in comparison to other DOOM albums. I’ll put it above The Mouse and the Mask and both of the Viktor Vaughn albums. It’s tied with Born Like This for me. Technically that’s middle of the road (not counting KMD or MIC albums) in his career, but it’s hard to top Madvillainy (which was the best record of the 00s for me), Operation: DOOMSDAY, and MM..FOOD.

  4. Simon the garf uncle|

    I don’t care whether we need Daniel or not… We need good music, and this is it!

  5. I can see what you mean, but after listening to the album myself, I still feel like it got the right score.

  6. you’re the best

  7. But from what I read, it’s like ” the songs are cool, but the metal-mask just ain’t swaggin no more”. Think he should focus more on the music in stead of all the surrounding bs. I think this album hits a tune that is still very relevant. Doom moved along with the rest of us, all though he still wears his stupid helmet….

  8. i did review the album in terms of his career trajectory and the phases of rap throughout his career, but you got a low reading comprehension. and yeah fam, you stay mad. why not just say “i really loved this album and this review didn’t capture why I love it so much”, instead of being a lil’ internet troll. and lol @ wounded writer. i do this for free troll, it’s all love, even in your hate. imma go watch a Lady Gaga video now, be easy.

  9. actually it’s only you, lame. you stay mad tho. we love you. thanks for reading.

  10. did u really just call him ‘B’?


  11. also dont use the term “real rap” .


  12. not that rich|

    maybe because aesop rock has only ever gotten luv from underground. many mainstream hip hop fans dont even know who doom/madlib/dilla etc are

  13. talk to frank|

    i got respect for A.M. ever since ur great flying lotus interview on complex but u need to get this shit together son

  14. frank is killing pothiles|

    if u want to celebrate dooms career do a feature.if ur going to review an album, actually review the album

    i dont understant context??? playground insults from a wounded writer.

    haha now ur saying thanks for the hits??? how old are u man?

  15. Frank is killing potholes|

    haha look at u getting all mad cause folk have been dissing ur review. many people think mm food is a classic – watch young guru’s red bull lecture vid. also a lame attempt to act like ur a know it all by saying u get orgasmic listing to kon karne. not surprised u like lady gaga but prob only cause she co signed kenrick lamaar,

    please please, next time u do a review, write an actual review and not a wikipedia artist background entry.

  16. you have a very low reading comprehension it seems. I for one do not throw the word classic around. it’s reserved for very few records. secondly that’s how good the run from DOOMsday to MadVillainy was; people sleep on the stuff following. thirdly, all 3 of DOOMs last albums are very good long players, MMM… FOOD containing one of my top 3 DOOM tracks ever “Kon Karne” which continued his commitment to dedicate a song to his brother on all his albums. you sound mad… and ohh Lady Gaga good in my book, you don’t like her?

  17. interesting i spoke on 4 of the songs. albums reviews have never been about talking about all the songs. not only that i didn’t mention the weaknesses of the albums, instead i decided to celebrate DOOM’s career. and actually you don’t understand context in the slightest. but stay mad and thanks for giving us these hits

  18. AA, the hip hop virgin|

    i laugh so much at underground heads that go on about real hip hop. its all hip hop even the shit u dont like.

    i said it before on this site, believe it or not it is possible to like MF DOOM and WAKA FLOCKA. a real hip hop fan should be able to appreciate, but not neccearilly like, the entire hip hop spectrum = a real fan of hip hop. why u think mos def qtip common fuck with kanye and big sean??

    LOL at these underground rap fans who dont like it when more than 100 people like thier favourite artist

  19. frank is killing potholes|

    mm… food is a classic

    frank, give up and just listen to lady gaga

  20. frank is killing potholes|

    listen i get that in context crap (which i actually agree with) but u could of also not been lazy and actually dissected the album and comment on more than just one track. perhaps u just lack the writing skills.

    LAME .

  21. And there’s a bunch of people that weren’t listed by Frank, who are making dope(er) music (good Lee Bannon shout out): Oddisee, eLZhi, Termanology, REKS, Common, Apathy, Apollo Brown, 9th Wonder, Phonte, Consequence, Count Bass D (still) DJ Premier, DTMD, Fashawn, Murs, Jon Connor, Madlib, Planet Asia, The Roots, Sha Stimuli, Skyzoo, Smoke DZA, and (It’s) Stik Figa (Mang!)

  22. Yep. Biting IS acceptable (sarcastically speaking). I won’t listen to asap rocky because he obviously bit Aesop Rock’s name. how can you exist in the same city as someone, who’s been rapping longer than you, to critical acclaim, and not know or care about his name?

  23. JohnRHealey|

    Otherwise known as the Radiohead Effect, because if it’s not a classic it’s worthless, right?

  24. lastly, it was a “god send” that rap became so popular, even if it diluted the culture, BUT this shit aint pop! this is for heads, cats who gunna dig for the sonic jewels, fuck what mainstream America knows about or doesn’t. do i want my favorites to as popular as possible? No doubt, but never get it twisted rap is for those that need it, not that shit that pollutes Clear’s channels

  25. Danny Brown, Freddie Gibbs, Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab Soul, Shabazz Palaces, Action Bronson, Blu, A$AP Rocky & his Mob, Quelle Chris, Big KRIT, Stalley, OF (Earl in particular, shit Domo’s new album is nice), Roach Gigz, Bodega Bamz, Milli Mars, DJ Burn One, Clams Casino, COSS, SpaceGhostPurp, Lee Bannon…

    even the older heads have been coming with it:
    Killer Mike, El-P, Nas, Raekwon, Gangrene, Roc Marciano

    so yeah, rap is in a great place right noe

  26. YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE SEEN collabs like you do today by artist who people feel are one opposing sides of the rap spectrum. DOOM came at the tail end of the previous underground renaissance 96-02, and dropped most of his material when their was a dearth of quality rap 02-06. even the underground shit was mad boring in that time period. DOOM was one of the few acts without flinching you knew you could cop a 12inch or an album from knew it would be knocking. but now he is one of many and his mystique has worn off a little and we place value on his work in relation to his previous efforts, which is a bit unfair. this album is good, not great, but please don’t pretend rap and rappers exist in the same world as 10 years ago

  27. yo, i don’t know how old you are B, but this is pure poppy cock. rap is radically different now, than it was when DOOM arrived a second time in 99. not only where labels, Majors and Independents, a huge part of how rappers got their music to fans, but the images and motifs of what was bullshit and true to hip hop have changed ten fold. i won’t even get into how the sound of rap has changed. biting is accepted now, majors only drop money on a few acts (from 97-06 do you know how much money was flowing in & out of the rap industry!?!!) go google semi-hits from that trime period and look at those video budgets, the divide between street & conscious or who collabs with who is all but gone. In 99

  28. that’s the thing A.M. as i state clearly in this review, DOOM gave us not only a lot of material, he gave us a lot of near classic material. so MMM… Food, Born Like This and Keys to the Kuff have been feeling the burden of his last accomplishments and collaborations. this hard B

  29. actually that’s not what I’m saying at all. i’m saying DOOM’s mystique as the force/champion of real rap is not as strong anymore and exist in a different culture of how we access and experience music, which makes it very difficult to critique his work. I actually didn’t want to really critique the flaw in the album, but rather celebrate the great parts of it. but if you think speaking of why DOOM has been so awesome to us as “real rap” fans is a bad way of doing thing than all i can say is:

  30. Raps at the exact same point is what at when DOOM burst onto the scene so I’m kind of confused about the point of this post. Just because the internet is making it increasingly easier for better artists to make their debuts doesn’t mean obviously great rappers aren’t needed to cement why hip hop/rap is and was great. While DOOM is welcomed by real fans of the game, he is still mostly unknown to the great white masses. His “cast of characters” goes unnoticed still as more and more overproduced nonsense from Maybach and Khaled and Chief Keef continue to dominate the airwaves. This article suggests that rap has gotten better with time but this blog’s mere existence and alternative lifestyle should negate that idea. Granted I am a DOOM fan boy to say the least, the lack of DOOM on America’s shores is a great loss for the industry and if anything this album should be a reminder as to why this loss is so profound.

  31. Come on. Reviewing someone like DOOM ain’t easy and Frank didn’t want to just be like HERE’S MY THOUGHTS ON THE ALBUM. He put it into a much bigger context.

  32. needing specifics|

    as a public service, would you list some names among the “wealth of high-quality rap songs and rappers,” and some of the others “making great records”?

  33. the problem with this or any DOOM album is people expect something brilliant, which isn’t to say we shouldn’t critique him like we do…I’m confusing myself.

  34. Potholes is dead|

    terrible review, u hardly crtique the album!?!?!?! this is just a diary blog post where u are saying doom isnt needed anymore and there are other good rappers now. i may have had beef with potholes writer A.M. in the past but he would of done a waaaaay better job.


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